The leader of a national grape cooperative urged South Carolina growers attending a recent Clemson University-sponsored niche crop meeting to embrace the concept of cooperatives as one way to add value.

"With a co-op you’re invested," says Joe Falcone, president of the Westfield, N.Y.-based National Grape Growers Association, which also owns Welch's. "You throw your money and ideas into the pot. You all work toward the same things. In our co-op, we do lobby work and sponsor research."

Falcone, who grows 430 acres of grapes in Silver Creek, N.Y., says a cooperative could allow for easier development of value-added products than if a grower tried it alone. Owning processing facilities for products, such as juice or wine, would produce more profit for growers than relying on others for the processing, he says.

Several value-added products on display from Hyman Vineyards of Conway, S.C., drew Falcone's attention.

“I was impressed with the hand creams with nutraceuticals in them, and the health supplements,” he says. “Some of you were talking about muscadines, some about nutraceuticals and others about agri-tourism. If you receive $100, what are you going to spend it on?"

He says the organization shouldn’t try to be all things to all people.

Processing crops, such as muscadines, into nutritional supplements offers one way to add value, says David Gangemi, director of the Institute for Nutriceutical Research at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C.

The university is involved in clinical trials for the U.S. Department of Defense to look at enhancing human performance with muscadine, cucurmin and quercetin. Trials are being conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

“If it proves out, muscadine extract could wind up as an additive in meals ready-to-eat,” Gangemi says.

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